We’ve had an ongoing discussion about body image issues, and wedding, and marriage here at APW. One of the most beautiful posts, A Way To Weigh What You Weigh When You Wed, came from Margaret. She’s back today to talk about a different aspect of our relationship with our bodies: health and chronic illness. I haven’t talked about this at length on APW, is the fact that I have a chronic pain condition. So, every day, when I wake up, my first thought is how I feel. What are the pain levels like, and what can I do about that? And I think Margaret nails this issue with such grace. For me, in some ways, my chronic condition has been a blessing. It’s forced me to be very aware of my body, and my health, and really live in gratitude for the body that I have today. That, and to develop my independence. Because only I can care for my body, and that gives me real responsibility to take care of myself. So, I’m honored to introduce Margaret, talking wisely about an issue that’s close to my heart.
I’ve wrote about my weight and my wedding day for APW, and I was so happy and gratified to see that it helped people. I mentioned in that post that I hadn’t felt able to devote the time and energy to my eating and exercise habits and that I had come to forgive myself for that.
I wish I could say that the day after my wedding, I said “Well, that’s over with, time to focus on my eating and exercising habits.” I think I harbored this thought that my wedding day was both a finishing line and a starting pistol.
It wasn’t really like that.
Instead, I had a tough couple of months. When the light faded and we trudged into winter, I found I was moving less. Sleeping more. I was ravenously, constantly hungry despite eating huge amounts of food. I probably didn’t eat a single vegetable for about four months. I gained weight. My husband finally dragged me to the doctor and there it was: type 2 diabetes.
Now here is the point where I feel like a standard narrative kicks in. It goes like this: Girl gets disease (in my case, happily, chronic but not immediately life threatening). Girl leans on Partner for support. Partner is very supportive/not supportive. The relationship flourishes/falters. The end.
It’s been a little different for me.
It’s not that Geoff hasn’t been supportive. Of course he has. The first thing I did when I got out of the doctor’s office was send him a single sentence email saying, “I have diabetes.” Immediately, he wrote back and said “I will do whatever I can to help you.” And that’s been true. By no means am I diminishing the amount of time, care, and work Geoff has invested in managing this disease with me. It’s just that there’s another side of this story for me.
When I was depressed and miserable this winter, I was incredibly dependent on Geoff. He would run our errands, make dinner, and take care of most of the household chores. I didn’t like how dependent I had grown, but I didn’t think I could change it either.
I know this probably sounds insane, but I don’t hate the fact that I have diabetes. I know it is a serious disease but I’ve done more than come to terms with it; I’ve welcomed it. It has forced me to be more organized, adopt better eating habits, and move more. Instead of resenting those things, I’ve welcomed them into my life, and the irony is that I’m far healthier now than I was before.
The most surprising upside of my diagnosis is that it’s led me to be more independent. When I first got the diagnosis, the thing that scared me the most was the work it would create for us. I thought it would be a crushing, sisyphean chore. But instead, thanks to getting treated, I found that I had the wherewithal to deal with it without relying so heavily on my husband.
This didn’t happen overnight. Initially, Geoff had to drag me to the doctor, after begging me to go for months. He also made sure that I took my medications every day, that I went for my walk, that I ate some vegetables. But once I started feeling just a little bit better, I found I was able to manage my disease and do so much more. I started holding my own with all the things that go into taking care of both of us and managing our household. And I started to bring good cheer and optimism back into our marriage.
Geoff travels often for work, and he was gone when I got the diagnosis. I was distraught when I first got the news. (And it’s true that diabetes is not a death sentence, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t upsetting, especially if you believe, as I did at the time, that you somehow deserved to get the disease.) But slowly, I started feeling better, both physically and mentally. Once my blood sugar was under control, I had an “oh, that’s what was wrong with my body” moment.
I harbor no illusions that managing this disease is going to be a cakewalk for Geoff and me. It’s not easy to make lasting changes, and working to stop overeating takes a lot of hard work for a host of biological, psychological, and environmental reasons. I also think a healthy marriage is no guarantee that overcoming any of life’s challenges will be easy. But this episode has been a reminder to me of how much I am responsible for my own life, even though it’s a life lived in tandem with another person. Maybe that seems obvious, but I guess I needed reminding.
A supportive spouse is a wonderful thing. But it’s no substitute for an independent you.